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Countering the menace of addiction to tobacco, Published By The Daily Financial Express

Countering the menace of addiction to tobacco

Published : Thursday, 31 May 2012 

The Daily Financial Express:

31st of May 2012, when the world is observing the World No Tobacco Day 2012 with the theme of 'Stop Tobacco Company Interference', about 16,438 people, including about 1644 passive smokers, will die due to tobacco use in this world. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that about six million people die each year due to tobacco (users or ex-users) and this figure includes 600,000 non-smokers who die due to passive smoking. More than half of tobacco users die for tobacco-related diseases. The data shows more than 16,438 people die every single day in the world due to tobacco-related diseases. The death toll is about 685 persons in every single hour and 11.5 persons in every single minute. It also shows that the death of one person takes place in less than 5.3 seconds. 

The data indicates a very dangerous situation about the effects of tobacco use around the world. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll, as the WHO has warned, could rise to more than eight million by 2030. We should remember that, around 80 per cent of tobacco users are living in, and about 70 per cent of tobacco-related deaths are happening, in the low and middle income countries like Bangladesh. 

Now, the Bangladesh scenario. According to the WHO study in 2004, tobacco consumption is responsible for eight major NCDs (including cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetics etc) among 1.2 million people and 382 thousands of them lost their physical activeness and 57 thousands of deaths occurred. We should remember that in 2004, tobacco consumption rate was 36/3 per cent and now, it is about 43.3 per cent. Tobacco consumption has increased by 6.0 per cent. So the number of death increased by this time as tobacco consumption percentage has increased. According to unofficial sources, around 100 thousand people have died due to tobacco and more than half a million people have been lost physical activeness due to tobacco. 

Policy analyst and tobacco control activist, Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam thinks there may be many cases of tobacco-related death among the tobacco cultivators and workers in tobacco factories (i.e.; bidi factories or gul factories) which do not show in the statistics as we do not have scientific studies in this field. 

Eminent activist and Global Vice-President of The Hunger Project, Professor Dr. Badiul Alam Majumder says that tobacco undermines people's right to life, which is guaranteed under the constitution of the country. To save people's life and to respect the constitutional rights for people, we need to control tobacco strictly. Dr. Mostafa Zaman, National Professional Officer for Non-Communicable Disease and focal person for tobacco control, WHO-Bangladesh, says, besides the obligation within the country, we also have some international responsibilities as Bangladesh has signed and ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). 

WHO states that the industry's attempts to undermine the treaty - FCTC - continue on other fronts, particularly with regard to the attempts to ban smoking in enclosed public places and to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in the country. World No Tobacco Day 2012 is purported to educating the policy-makers and the general public about the tobacco industry's `harmful tactics. 

It will also be in keeping with the letter and spirit of the WHO's FCTC. The preamble of the treaty recognises "the need to be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts and the need to be informed of activities of the tobacco industry that have a negative impact on tobacco control efforts".

In addition, Article 5.3 of the treaty states that "in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law"

"The global tobacco industry is expanding its war against public health, beyond national courts and into the international arena. Governments must understand these new threats, and stand together to defend their sovereignty and public health." This is noted by the four international organisations on public health and tobacco control in a press release. These organisations are: American Cancer Society, Corporate Accountability International, Framework Convention Alliance and World Lung Foundation. 

At the international level, more and more governments are having to defend strong tobacco control measures they put in place to comply with a global health treaty, the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). 

The FCTC sets out specific steps for governments to address issues relating to tobacco use. These include:

n Adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption;

n Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;

n Create smoke-free work and public spaces;

n Put prominent health warnings on tobacco packages;

n Combat illicit trade in tobacco products.

While Big Tobacco accelerates its offensive, the WHO has named tobacco industry interference as the theme of World No Tobacco Day, May 31. 

"As tobacco control takes hold, the industry continues to adjust its bullying tactics so that it can advance its ultimate aim: to hook a future generation of smokers," said Laurent Huber, Director of the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA,) which represents over 350 organisations in more than 100 countries. "After attacking public health policies in national courts and via bilateral agreements, they are now enticing governments into doing their dirty work at the World Trade Organisation," he added. 

So this is time to strictly control tobacco companies by law as tobacco control law amendment is under process. Public health activists hope that the law would be enacted soon. Due to tobacco companies' aggressive interference, the process of law making has already been delayed. 

Tobacco companies' aggressive interference is against public health, against countries' growth, against environment, against agriculture and against development. Tobacco companies' aggressive interference has led to an increased number of deaths, and higher public health costs. Tobacco companies are violating the existing law and making propaganda to make the people tobacco-addict. This is ultimately the gateway to other forms of drug addiction. Aggressive propaganda by the tobacco companies to increase tobacco smoking is nothing but smartness on their part. About hundreds of thousands of youths join in this bloodbath of addiction today. So we should save the youth from smoking. 

The people are waiting to see the amendment to tobacco control law to come soon to reduce the number of deaths caused by tobacco. Punishment of relevant companies should be increased, being not less than Taka 1.0 million for violation of law. And if the same tobacco companies violate law again and again, the punishment should be harsher and their trade licences should also be cancelled. Any promotional effort, paraded as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities by the tobacco companies, must not be given a free rein, if these are meant to misguide the people. Any smoking scene on TV, film or any other media should be banned. A minimum of 50 per cent tobacco packets on both sides should print pictorial health warnings. All public places and public transports should be made 100 per cent smoke-free to save non-smokers including women and children. Tobacco cultivation should be stopped in agricultural lands where we can cultivate food crops. 

Meanwhile, high taxes on tobacco products should continue to be a strong tool for successful tobacco control. Even if tax on tobacco is increased, it can be a way to increase revenue as well. So, we are waiting for that time to see that government brings about a tough amendment to the existing law and increases rate of tax on tobacco. We hope the next budget will make such an announcement.